Mystery Stories for Boys
Mystery Stories for Boys
By ROY J. SNELL
The Reilly & Lee Co. Chicago
Copyright 1921 By The Reilly & Lee Co.
All Rights Reserved
Made in U. S. A.
CHAPTER PAGE I A Mysterious Death 7 II "Fifteen Men on the Dead Man's Chest" 18 III A Fight in the Night 32 IV Chukche Treachery 43 V The Big Cat 54 VI In the Grip of Terror 68 VII The Mystery of Mine No. 1 79 VIII Three Men Disappear 90 IX Startling Perils 101 X Playing a Lone Hand 117 XI Dangling in Mid Air 132 XII The Russian Dagger 144 XIII Cio-Cio-San 156 XIV Nearing the City of Gold 164 XV Trapped 178 XVI The City Of Gold 186 XVII Kidnapped 198 XVIII Under Machine-Gun Fire 208 XIX Johnny Goes Into Action 219 XX Some Mysteries Uncovered 229
A MYSTERIOUS DEATH
"He is dead!"
Johnny Thompson felt the grip of the speaker's hand on his arm and started involuntarily. How could this strange fellow know that Frank Langlois was dead—if he was dead? And was he? They were surrounded by inky blackness. It was the thick darkness of a subterranean cavern, a mine. This was a gold mine. Three minutes ago their electric torch had flickered out and they had been unable to make it flash again.
"C'mon," said the other man, "Pant," as the laborers called him, "we don't need that thing."
To his utter astonishment, Johnny had felt himself urged forward by this Pant with the easy, steady, forward march of one who is certain of every step. Twice they had turned to avoid mine-props. They had gone back into the mine perhaps a hundred feet. Now, with not a spark of light shining out of the gloom, they had paused and his companion had uttered those three words:
"He is dead."
Was the man they had come to seek really dead? If he was, who had killed him? How did Pant know he was dead? Surely in that Egyptian midnight no man could see.
As Johnny threw an involuntary glance to the spot where Pant's face should be, he gasped. Had he caught a yellow glow from one eye of the man? He could not be sure about it, for at that instant the electric torch flashed on again as suddenly as it had gone out.
Johnny's eyes followed the yellow circle of light. Then with a low exclamation he sprang forward. There, not ten feet before them, lay the form of Frank Langlois. To all appearances he was dead. Again through Johnny's mind there flashed the telegraphic questions:
"Who killed him? How did Pant know?"
Thrusting the torch into Johnny's hand, his companion leaped forward and, with a cat-like motion, dropped down beside the prostrate form. Tearing away at jacket and shirt, he bared the breast and placed his ear close down upon the cold flesh.
"Dead all right," he sighed at last. "Wonder what killed him?"
He still crouched there, as a cat crouches beside its kill. As if he searched for the answer to his last question, his eyes roved about the floor.
This moment of silence gave Johnny time to study Pant, to recall what he really knew about him.
He was a strange chap, this Pant. He never bunked with the other laborers of the outfit, but had a private little pup-tent affair that he had made of long-haired deer skin and canvas. In this he slept. He was slight of build but wiry. Possessed of a peculiar supple strength and agility, he easily surpassed other men of greater weight in everything he undertook, both of labor and sport. One queer thing about him was that he always wore a pair of glasses with smoked lenses of such large proportions that they hid his eyes completely; he was never without them. One more thing, he always wore the Eskimo cut of garments; in cold weather, deer skin; in warm weather and at work, blue drill; but always that middy-styled cloak with the hood attached. And the hood was never off his head, at least not in waking hours. He had dressed that way even in Seattle, where Johnny had signed him up to join his outfit on this perilously uncertain search for gold in the Seven Mines which were supposed to exist in Arctic Siberia, at the mouth of the Anadir River across from Alaska.
And yet, with all this strange dress, the man was not an Eskimo. Johnny knew that from the looks of him and from his talk. Indeed, in a burst of frankness, the man had once told him that when very young he had been picked up in New York by some orphan asylum and sent west to be raised by a rancher; that he had soon run away from his foster home and had, since that time, lived by his wits, sometimes in western cities, sometimes in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. He had made three trips to foreign countries and yet, as nearly as he himself could calculate, he was not now more than nineteen, a mere boy, but certainly a most mysterious one.
Johnny's mind took up the problems of the new enterprise upon which he was entering. How would this tragedy affect his work and, most of all, the minds of his men?
Johnny, as you will remember from reading "Triple Spies," the first book of his thrilling adventures, had been in this vast, silent, and mysterious land of snow before. He had traveled over three thousand miles of it and had experienced many a strange adventure. Not least of these was the rediscovery of the Seven Mines of Siberia. These mines had first been discovered by an American prospector who, having crossed Bering Strait one summer with natives in their skin boats, had explored the Arctic Siberian rivers. He believed that there was an abundance of the precious yellow metal on the Kamchatkan Peninsula, just as there was in its twin peninsula, Alaska. In this he had not been disappointed. But when it came to mining this gold, many problems arose. Chief among these was the fact that the land belonged to the Russian Czar, from whom a concession must be secured.
He had, at last, sold his secret to the Big Five of Chicago, five of the world's richest men. These men had secured the needed concession and had shipped large quantities of mining machinery and coal to the mouth of the river when the Czar's government suddenly went to smash. Everything was dropped for the time being and there matters stood when Johnny had come upon the mines. Some of them were well opened up for operation, but the machinery lay rusting in the sheds.
When he had made his way back to Chicago, about six months previous to the opening of our story, he had had serious matters to attend to, matters which were vital to the very foundations of his Government. After these had been settled and the Big Five, having learned that Hanada, Johnny's Japanese friend and school mate, who had made the entire Siberian journey with him and had previously worked in the Seven Mines, had been killed by a mysterious shot, fired from the depths of Chicago River, they turned to Johnny, as the one who could best aid them in solving the knotty problem of working the Seven Mines.
Johnny, with his long experience as a soldier in eastern Russia, was able to tell them frankly that there would be practically no chance of obtaining a concession of any value from the uncertain government that existed in that region.
They had called in their lawyers, who advised that they proceed to work the mines on the old concession, given them by the Czar. "The concession," they explained, "does not expire until January, 1925. That being the case, it still holds good, even though the government has changed hands, just as a lease to bore for oil on a certain farm would hold good even though the farm changed hands."
"Yes," the rich representatives of the Big Five had smiled, "but there is a royalty of 25 per cent which was to have been paid to the Czar. Now it should go to the people. But how? To whom should this now be paid?"
At this juncture, Johnny had one of his occasional inspirations.
"Leave that to me," he had exclaimed. "Make me foreman of the enterprise and every ounce and penny's worth of that royalty will go to relieve the sufferings of those freezing, starving, and naked refugees I saw pouring into Vladivostok from the interior by tens of thousands. You appoint one person and send that person over to assist the Red Cross in distributing the benefits and I will get the gold down to them, never fear."
"Good!" one of the rich men had exclaimed.
"And, just to show you we're with you, we'll make it 35 per cent."
Now, Johnny remembered all of that. He remembered too how he had picked his miners, and his crew for the big gasoline schooner which was to bring them to the scene of their labors, and his two air men who were to man their emergency transportation—an airplane. He remembered with what high hopes he had landed on those bleak shores and had taken up the task of making his men comfortable for the long winter. Only yesterday the housing work had been completed, and to-day, while the other laborers were going over the rusted machinery, he had sent his best man, Langlois, into the most promising looking mine to discover the conditions there. The man had not returned. After four hours of waiting, he had called to Pant, and together they had entered the mine. They had found that death had already broken through their guard.
"Let him lie as he is," Johnny said to his companion. "We will bring in the doctor and two other men. This is a land without law. There will be no coroner's inquest. That is all the more reason why we must be careful to avoid all appearance of foul play. When men are 'on their own' everything must be done in the open."
Before turning toward the mouth of the mine, he cast one sweeping glance about the place. Beyond the body there was a pool of water. It was evident that a warm spring must enter the place near this shallow pool, for the walls on all sides were white with frost. In the middle of this pool, driven into the earth was a pick. It was rusty and its handle was slimy with dampness. Close to the end of the handle were the marks of a man's fingers where his firm grip had ground off particles of the black rot. It seemed evident that the pick had lain on the floor of the mine, that Langlois had taken it up and driven it into the earth which had been softened by the water. Then death must have come, for he lay not three feet from the handle of the pick.
"Dead," Johnny whispered to himself as he turned away, "but how?"
Half way to the entrance, Johnny paused, put his hand on his companion's arm, then stood in the attitude of listening. He seemed to feel rather than hear an almost undetectable shudder that set the air about them and the rock beneath their feet to vibrating.
"What is it?" whispered Johnny.
"I don't know," said his companion, and there was a noticeable tremor in his voice.
They were destined to feel that earth-tremble many times before they solved the mystery of the mine.
"FIFTEEN MEN ON THE DEAD MAN'S CHEST"
The two men who, with the young doctor, accompanied Johnny and Pant back to the mine were old friends of other days, David Tower and Jarvis, one-time skipper and engineer of the submarine in that remarkable race beneath the ice and through the air told about in our second book, "Lost in the Air." Like all worthy seamen, they had found that money "burned holes in their pockets," and before six months had passed their share of the prize money had dwindled to such a meager sum that the fitting out of a private expedition to go north in search of the fabled City of Gold, the gleam of whose domes they had glimpsed, was not to be thought of. When, therefore, they had discovered that men were being signed for a trip to Arctic Russia with the well-known feather-weight champion boxer, Johnny Thompson, at its head, they hastened to put their names on the "dotted line." And here they were, two of Johnny's most valued men.
Both worked hard at the labor entrusted to them. But ever and again, as he straightened up to ease his cramped back, Jarvis would whisper to Dave:
"It's all right this 'ere Seven Mines, but, man, think how rich we'll be when we git to that City of Gold. I 'ates to think how rich we'll be. We'll buy reindeer or dogs from the bloody, bloomin' 'eathen and we'll trim our sails for the nor'west when this hexpedition's blowed up and gone."
Dave had always smiled and hoped.
But now, there lay before them a sad task. One of their comrades, a fine young college fellow with all of life before him, had been "bumped off." It was their duty to determine, if possible, who was responsible for this tragedy, and, if occasion seemed to warrant, to avenge it.
With bowed heads, they stood beside the quiet form while the young doctor went about his examination.
For fully ten minutes the mine was silent as a grave. Only the faint drip, drip, drip of water from the warm spring and the almost inaudible tremble-mumble of the throbbing earth disturbed the deathlike stillness.
At last the doctor straightened up with a sigh.
"Not a scratch on his body," he announced, "not a sign of anything."
"Heart disease?" suggested Johnny.
"Impossible. I was particularly careful to see that every man of the expedition had a good strong heart. Low temperatures are hard on bad hearts. Langlois was exceptionally well equipped in this matter. Indeed, he told me that he had climbed Mount Evans in Colorado last summer, fourteen thousand and two hundred feet, without a murmur from his heart. Couldn't be that."
"Poison?" suggested Johnny.
"Not a sign of that either. Of course, to be sure of that, one must make a post-mortem examination. Let's get him out of this damp, black hole."
They were soon moving out of the dark and forbidding interior of the mine toward the welcome sunlight that flooded the entrance.
As they approached this entrance, the unreliable flashlight flickered out for a second, and, in that second, Johnny experienced a distinct shock. Again, it seemed to him that he caught the gleam of a round, yellow ball of light, such as one sees when looking toward a cat in the dark. When the light flashed on, Pant had moved, but Johnny concluded that he might easily have been standing where the ball of light had shown.
As he prepared to leave the mine, Johnny paused for a moment, trying to sense once more that strange earth shudder. It seemed to him that it was less distinct here than it had been further back in the mine. But of this he could not be sure. It might easily be that the slight sounds and the sensations of light and air here dulled his sensibilities, making it harder for him to catch the shudder.
The post-mortem revealed no signs of poison. They buried Langlois the next day in the grave that had been picked and blasted out of the solidly frozen earth of the hillside looking over the ice-blocked sea.
It was a solemn but picturesque scene that struck Johnny's eye as he neared the grave. Before him stood his comrades with bowed and uncovered heads. In the distance stretched the unmeasured expanse of the ice-whitened sea. Beyond, on the other side, lay the equally unmeasured expanse of snow-whitened land. Far in the distance stretched the endless chain of mountains, which to-day seemed to smoke with the snow blown a quarter mile above their summits. In the foreground, not a hundred yards away, was a group of perhaps fifty people. These were Chukches, natives, very like the Eskimos of Alaska. They had come to witness from afar the strange scene of the "alongmeet's" (white man's) burial.
The scene filled Johnny with a strange sense of awe. Yet, as he came nearer to the grave, he frowned. He had thought that all his men stood with uncovered heads. One did not. The man who had been the first to discover the dead man, Pant, stood with his fur hood tied tightly over his ears.
Johnny was about to rebuke him, but the word died on his lips. "Pshaw!" he whispered to himself, "there's trouble enough without starting a quarrel beside an open grave."
Jarvis, who was the oldest man of the group and had been brought up in the Church of England, read a Psalm and a prayer, then with husky voice repeated:
"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust."
The hollow thump of frozen earth on the rude box coffin told that the ceremony was over.
One by one the men moved away, leaving only two behind to fill the grave.
Johnny strode off up the hill alone. He felt a great need to think. There was to be no more work that day. He would not be missed.
As he made his way slowly up the hill, his dark form stood out against the white background. Short, but square-shouldered and muscular, he fairly radiated his years of clean, vigorous living.
And Johnny Thompson was all that one might imagine him to be. A quiet, unobtrusive fellow, he seldom spoke except when he had something worth saying. Since childhood he had always been a leader among his fellows. Johnny was a good example to others, but no prude. He had played a fast quarter on the football team, and had won for himself early renown and many medals as a light weight, champion boxer. He never sought a quarrel, but, if occasion demanded it, Johnny went into action with a vim and rush that few men of twice his weight could withstand.
Now, however, his thoughts were far from pugilistic. He was thinking of the immediate past and the future. Every man in his crew was aware of the fact that 35 per cent of the output of these mines went to the homeless starving ones of the most hopelessly wrecked nation on the face of the earth. And though for the most part they were rough men, they had all worked with the cheerful persistence which only an unselfish motive can inspire. Langlois had not been the least among these. Now he was gone. Who would be next?
Every man in the crew knew the dangers they were facing. To the south were the anti-Bolshevik Russians, who, not understanding Johnny's claims and his motives, might, at any time, launch an expedition against them. To the southwest were the radical Bolsheviki, who, obtaining knowledge of these rich deposits of gold, might start a land force across country to secure this much needed medium of exchange. Then there were the Chukches. Wild, superstitious tribes of spirit-worshipping people, they might come down from the north in thousands to wipe out this first white settlement established on their shores.
Johnny's men had known of all these perils and yet they had freely and gladly joined the expedition. His heart swelled with joy and pride at thought of the trust they had put in him.
Yet here was a new and unknown peril. The death of Langlois could not be fairly laid at the door of either Chukches or Russians. Could it be charged to some treacherous member of their own group? Johnny hated to think so, yet, how had it happened? Then, too, there was that strange earth-tremble; what caused that?
Already his men were growing superstitious in this silent, frozen land. He had heard them saying openly that they would not work in the mine where Langlois died. Ah, well, there were six other mines, some of them probably as rich. They could be worked. But was this peril to follow them into these? Was his whole expedition to be thwarted in the carrying out of its high purposes? Were the needy in great barren Russia to continue to freeze and starve? He hoped not.
As he rose to go, he saw a small dark object scurry over the snow. At first he thought it a raven. But at last, with a little circle, it appeared to flop over and to lie still, a dark spot on the snow.
Johnny approached it cautiously. As he came close, his lips parted in an exclamation:
"A phonographic record!"
He looked quickly up the hill, then to the right and left. Not a person was in sight.
"Apparently from the sky," he murmured.
But at that instant he caught himself. They had a phonograph in their outfit. This was doubtless one of their records. But how did it come out here?
As he picked it up and examined it closely, he knew at once that it was not one of their own, for it was a different size and had neither number nor label on it.
"Ho, well," he sighed, "probably thrown away by some native. Take it down and try it out anyway. Might be a good one."
At that, he began making his way down the hill.
He was nearly late to mess. Already the men were assembled around the long table and were helping themselves to "goldfish" and hot biscuits.
"Boys," Johnny smiled, "I've been downtown and brought home a new record for the phonograph. We'll hear it in the clubroom after mess."
"What's the name of it?" inquired Dave Tower, all interest at once, as, indeed, they all were.
"Don't know," said Johnny, "but I bet it's a good one."
Mess over, they adjourned to the "clubroom," a large room, roughly but comfortably furnished with homemade easy chairs, benches and tables, and supplied with all the reading matter in camp.
Many pairs of curious eyes turned to the phonograph in the corner as Johnny, after winding the machine, carefully placed the disk in position, adjusted the needle, and with a loud "A-hem!" started the machine in motion.
There followed the usual rattle and thump as the needle cleared its way to the record.
Every man sat bolt upright, ears and eyes strained, when from the woody throat came the notes of a clear voice:
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, Yo—ho—ho, and a bottle of rum. Fifteen men and the dark and damp, My men 'tis better to shun."
Again the machine appeared to clear its throat.
A smile played over the faces of the men. But again the voice sang:
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, Yo—ho—ho, and a bottle of rum. Fifteen men and the dark and damp, My men 'tis better to shun."
Again came a rattle. A puzzled expression passed over Johnny's face. The same song was repeated over and over till the record was finished.
A hoarse laugh came from one corner. It died half finished. No one joined in the laugh. There was something uncanny about this record which had drifted in from nowhere with its song of pirate days and of death. Especially did it appear so, coming at such a time as this.
"Well, what do you make of it?" Johnny smiled queerly.
"It's a spirit message!" exclaimed Jarvis, "I read as 'ow Sir Oliver Lodge 'as got messages from 'is departed ones through the medium of a slate. 'Oo's to say spirits can't talk on them wax records as well. It's a message, a warnin' to us in this 'ere day of death."
Smiles followed but no laughing. In a land such as this, every man's opinion is respected.
"More likely some whaler made a few private records of his own singing and gave this one to the natives," suggested Dave Tower. "They'd take it for something to eat, but, when they tried boiling it and had no success, they'd throw it away. That's probably what's happened and here we have the record."
"Anyway," said the doctor, "if he's a sailor, you'll have to admit he had a very fine voice."
There the matter was dropped. But Johnny took it up again before he slept. He could not help feeling that this was sent as a warning not from the spirit world, but from some living person. Who that person might be, he had no sort of notion. And the message gave no clue. He repeated it slowly to himself.
"What could you make out of that?" he mumbled.
Then he turned over in his deer-skin bag and went to sleep.
A FIGHT IN THE NIGHT
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, Yo—ho—ho, and a bottle of rum. Fifteen men and the dark and damp, My men 'tis better to shun."
For the fiftieth time Johnny heard those words ground out by the record that had rolled down the hill to meet him. Fifty times he had searched in vain for its meaning. For that it was not chance that had sent it rolling to his feet, but purpose, the mysterious purpose of an unknown some one, he was certain.
If the man had something to say to him, why did he not say it? Why veil his meaning in an apparently senseless song? It was getting on his nerves.
He sprang to his feet and began pacing the floor. For the first time since the record came into his hands, he had an idea. Somewhere, he had read part of that song, perhaps all. But where? He could not think.
He came to a stand beside Dave Tower, who was reading.
"Dave," he exclaimed, "part of that song, or all of it, is printed in a book. What book is it?"
"Your memory's poor," grinned Dave, "'Treasure Island,' of course—only the first two lines, though. It's the song the old one-legged pirate used to sing."
"Sure," smiled Johnny.
Turning, he left the room.
In a moment he had his parka down over his head and was out in the open air. He wanted to think.
The yellow light of the moon was cut here and there by dark purple shadows of the night. Not a breath stirred. He walked slowly up the hill, watching the golden streamers of the northern lights streaking across the sky. It was a perfect night. And yet, it was to be marred all too soon.
"Fifteen men and the dark and damp, My men 'tis better to shun."
Johnny repeated the last two lines of the song. So these were the words the mysterious singer had improvised to sing with those which were well known by every live American boy. What could he mean? Why had he sung them?
Suddenly it all seemed clear to him; the man was being watched and dared not do a thing openly. He wished to send them a warning. This was his only way. And the warning was doubtless to tell them to stay away from the death trap where Frank Langlois had perished.
"Well," Johnny exclaimed, as if addressing the person who had sent the message, "if that's all there is to it, we've already complied with your wish."
He turned and looked back down the hill. A few hundred yards away a hole yawned in the hard crusted snow. Twenty yards from this was a cone of black earth twice the height of a man. This was their pile of pay dirt. For five days now, they had been working on the second mine of the seven. The pay dirt they had struck was not as rich as they hoped to find, but it would repay the labor of sluicing. It was growing richer each hour. They hoped in time to uncover the mother-lode. This would pay for panning and yield a rich reward.
It was placer mining. Beside the mine entrance stood a steam thawer, a coal-heated boiler such as is used for driving a sawmill or grist-mill engine. From this a wire-wound hose extended into the interior of the mine. The mine was fifteen feet underground, but even here the earth was frozen solid. Attached to the hose was a sharp pointed iron pipe. This pipe was perforated in hundreds of places. When it was driven into the earth and the steam turned on, it thawed the flinty soil and rendered it pliable to the pick and shovel.
"Yes," Johnny heaved a sigh of satisfaction, "yes, sometime, perhaps in two or three months, we will send by reliable reindeer carriers our first gift of gold to the orphans of Russia."
He made his way up the hill to the point where he had found the phonographic record, for he was curious to know the lay of the land above that point. He wanted to know where this strange person had been hiding when he set the disk rolling.
"It's strange, mighty strange," he whispered, as he looked up at the cliffs which towered skyward some three hundred yards above the spot where he stood.
Then suddenly he stopped short. Had he seen a dark shadow flit from one little ridge to another? The surface of the hill was very uneven. He could not tell.
At first he was inclined to turn back. But he had started for the rocky cliff and he was not given to turning back. He went on.
As he moved forward, his thoughts were again of that strange fellow who had made the record on the disk.
"Couldn't be a native" he murmured. "No native has a voice like that. If it's a strange white man, why doesn't he join us? Perhaps—" He stopped short in his tracks. "Perhaps it's one of our own number. Perhaps it's Pant. He's queer enough to do or be anything."
His mind hung on that last word—anything. Yes, he might not be a man at all. Might be a girl. Why always that hood drawn tight? Why the goggles? And, being a girl, she might be more than an adventuress. Possibly she was a radical, a Russian spy, who had joined his crew to thwart his purposes. Who could tell?
"Humph!" he shook himself free from these reflections. "Lot of chance of all that being true. There's witchery in this moonlight. And yet, stranger things have happened. Whatever you say, Pant's a devil. Who else could see in the dark?"
He was standing almost directly beneath the rocky cliff. Suddenly with the quickness of thought, a small brown figure sprang at him. Then another and another.
Right at his face sprang the first one. Not one nor two of these could be too quick for Johnny. Like a shot his right arm curved out. With a screaming shudder the man leaped in air and went crashing down the hill. The second, seized by his fragile squirrel-skin parka, tore himself away. The third landed upon Johnny's back. Like an infuriated bucking bronco, Johnny went over on his back, crushing the wind out of the fellow on the hard packed snow. But the second man, dressed now in a garment of crimson hue, which he had worn under his parka, was upon Johnny's chest. His arm was entwined in Johnny's left in a jujutsu hold. His hand flashed to the white boy's chin. With such a hold even a small man could do much. The man pinioned beneath, having regained his breath, added his strength to the other in holding his adversary flat to the snow. Johnny dug his left elbow into this one's face, while his right arm turned beneath the arm of the man on his chest and reached a position of half-nelson behind the man's head. He was now in a position to break this assailant's neck. Bones snapped as he applied the terrific muscles of his right arm and the brown man's muscles relaxed. Johnny's head and arms were free. With the speed of a wild-cat, he sprang to his feet, faced about, then, with a bounding leap, cleared the remaining assailant and went tobogganing down the hill. He had seen five others of the brown villains approaching. He had had enough for this night—more than enough.
The snow was hard packed; the descent for many yards was steep, and Johnny gained a momentum in his downward plunge that threatened disaster. Now he careened over a low ridge to shoot downward over a succession of rolling terraces. Now he slid along the trough of a bank of snow. One thought was comforting; he was escaping from those strange brown men. Shots had rung out. Bullets whizzed past him, one fairly burning his cheek. It was with a distinct sense of relief that he at last bumped over a sheer drop of six feet to a gentler incline where he was quite out of their sight.
By digging in his heels, he brought himself to a stop. Hardly had he done this than he sprang up and raced back up the hill to the last rocky ridge over which he had glided. From the top of this he might be able to see the men without himself being seen.
As he thrust his toe into a crack and braced his elbows, he peered up the snowy slope to the cliffs above. All was bathed in a glorious moonlight, but not a creature stirred. He watched for fully five minutes with no result. When about to drop to the snow again, he thought he detected a movement to the left of where he had been looking. Fixing his eyes on that point, he watched. Yes, there it was; something was passing out from behind a rock. A gasp escaped his lips.
What appeared to be a gigantic golden coated cat had moved stealthily out upon the snow, and was gliding toward the upper cliffs.
"Whew!" Johnny wiped the cold perspiration from his brow. Still he stared.
The creature moved in a leisurely manner up the hill until it disappeared around the cliffs.
Johnny looked to the right and down the hill. The light of the clubroom was still burning. He beat a hasty retreat.
It was a surprised and startled group that looked him over as he appeared at the door, ragged, bruised and bloody. Eagerly they crowded about to hear his story.
When he had washed the blood from his face and drawn on clean shirt and trousers, he took a place by the open fire and told them—told them as only Johnny could.
"Well, what do you make of it?" He threw back his head and laughed a frank, boyish laugh, as he finished. "Some wild and woolly adventure, eh? Who were those little men? And what does it all mean?"
"Means the natives are getting superstitious about our effect on the spirits of their dead whales and are planning to treat us rough," suggested Dave.
"Natives!" exploded Jarvis, "Them ain't any natural 'eathen. Them's 'eathen frum further down the sea. I 'ates to think what a 'ard lot they is. Dave and me's seen a 'eap further north than this. 'E's got spies everywhere, this 'eathen 'as."
"Struck me a little that way too," smiled Johnny. "That fellow I tore the clothes off was wearing silk undergarments. Show me the Chukche who wears any at all, let alone silk."
"Sure!" exclaimed Jarvis.
"But if they're around here, why don't we see them?" objected one of the miners.
"The big cat's 'ere. Johnny saw 'im," scoffed Jarvis. "You 'aven't seen 'im, 'ave you? All that's about ain't seen. Not by a 'ouse full."
"What about the big cat?" exclaimed Johnny. "I thought I was seeing things."
"E's a Roosian tiger," stated Jarvis. "I've seen the likes of 'im fur north of here."
"To-morrow," said Johnny, "we'll take a day off for hunting. Big, yellow cats and little yellow men are not good neighbors unless they've agreed in advance to behave. Move we turn in. All in favor, go to bed."
A moment later the clubroom was deserted.
The proposed hunt for "big yellow cats and little yellow men" did not come off, at least not at the time appointed. Morning found the tundra, the hills, everything, blotted out by a blinding, whirling blizzard. It was such a storm as one experiences only in the Arctic. The snow, fine and hard as granulated sugar, was piled high against the cabin. The door was blocked. Exit could be had only through a window.
Dave Tower, in attempting to make his way to the storeroom to secure a fresh supply of canned milk and evaporated eggs, found himself hopelessly lost in the blinding snow clouds. Possessed of singular presence of mind, he settled himself in the lee of a snow bank and waited. In time, a pencil of yellow light came jabbing its way through the leaden darkness. His companions had formed themselves in a circle and, with flash lights blinking here and there, sought and found him. After that, they remained within doors until the storm had spent its fury.
It was a strange world they looked upon when, after three days, they ventured out once more. The snow was piled in ridges. Ten, fifteen, twenty feet high, these ridges extended down the hillsides and along the tundra. Through one of these, they tunneled to Mine No. 2, making an enclosed path to the mine from the cabin.
"From now on, let her blow," laughed Johnny when the tunnel was finished; "our work will go on just the same."
When the men were all back at work, Johnny thought once more of the big yellow cat and the little yellow men. The storm had wiped out every trace of his struggle with the men and every track of the cat. But the native village? Might he not discover some trace of his assailants there? He resolved to visit the village. Since his men were all employed, he would go alone.
An exclamation of surprise escaped his lips as he rounded the point from which the rows of dome-like igloos could be seen. Where there had been nineteen or twenty homes, there were now sixty or seventy. What could this mean? Could it be that the men who had attacked him but a few days before were among these new arrivals? At first, he was tempted to turn back. But then there came the reflection that Nepossok, the old chief who made this his permanent home, was friendly to him. There would be little chance of treachery in the broad light of day.
He hurried on and walked down the snow-packed streets of a northern nomad village.
Reaching the old chief's tent, he threw back the flaps and entered. He was soon seated on the sleeping platform of the large igloo, with the chief sitting solemnly before him and his half naked children romping in one corner.
"Many Chukche," said Johnny.
"Il-a-hoite-Chukche. Too many! Too many," grumbled the old man.
Johnny waited for him to go on.
Twisting the string of his muckluck (skin boot), the old man continued: "What you think? Want'a dance and sing all a times these Chukche. No want'a hunt. No want'a fish. Quick come no cow-cow (no food). Quick starve. What you think?"
"Perhaps they think they can live off the white man," suggested Johnny.
The old man shot him a sharp glance.
"Eh—eh," he grunted.
"But they can't," said Johnny firmly. "You tell 'em no can do. White man, plenty grub now. Many white men. Many months all a time work, no come open water. No come grub. Long time, no grub. See! You speak Chukche, this."
"Eh—eh," the old man grunted again. Then as a worried expression came over his face, "What you think? Twenty igloo mine. That one chief mine. Many igloos not mine. No can say mine. T'other chief say do. Then do. Not do, say mine. See? What you think?"
From the old chief's rather long speech, Johnny gathered that Nepossok was chief over only twenty of the families of the village; that the others were under another chief; that he could tell them to hunt and fish, to be prepared for a food scarcity later, but that they would do as they pleased about it.
Johnny left the igloo with a worried expression on his face. If these natives had moved to this village close beside them with the notion that they would be able to trade for or beg the food which he had stored in his warehouse, they were doomed to disappointment. And having been disappointed, doubtless they would become dangerous.
This last conclusion was verified as he went the rounds of the village peering into every igloo. There were rifles in each one of them, good ones too—high power hunting rifles for big game—lever action, automatic. In every igloo he found men stretched out asleep, and this on a splendid day for hunting. They were but waiting for the night, which they would spend in wild singing, tom-tom drumming and naked dances.
Johnny did not find the people he had come to seek. In none of the igloos did he see a single person resembling, in the least degree, the little yellow men who had attacked him on the hill.
All this but confirmed his own opinion and that of Jarvis, that somewhere in these hills there was hiding away a company of Orientals, spies of their government, perhaps. But where could they be?
Johnny was not surprised, two days later, when, on coming out of his storeroom, he found a dark-faced and ugly Chukche looking in.
"Plenty cow-cow," the man grimaced.
"Ti-ma-na" (enough), said Johnny.
"Wanchee sack flour mine."
"No," said Johnny, closing and locking the door.
The man departed with a sour look on his face. He returned within an hour. With him was a boy. Between them they carried the most perfectly preserved mastodon tusk Johnny had ever seen.
"Flour?" the man said, pointing to the tusk.
Johnny could not resist the temptation to barter for the tusk. He yielded. The man carried his flour away in triumph.
After that, not a day passed but a half score or more of the natives came sneaking about the cabin, the storeroom, and the mine, begging for food.
As the days wore on, as famine came poking his skeleton form into the igloos of the improvident natives, the condition became truly serious.
Johnny dispatched a messenger inland to discover if it would be possible to obtain deer meat from the Reindeer Chukches living there. When he found that a few deer might be obtained, he began trading sparingly with the coast natives. They had little to trade, and the little he could spare would only postpone the disaster that seemed hanging over the camp like a cloud. The natives would not hunt or fish and each day found them growing more insolent and threatening.
This to the eager young miner was a great trial. Mining operations were going on splendidly. Mine No. 2 yielded a richer pay dirt each day. Indications were that in a very few days they would be mining the mother-lode from that digging and would be storing away pure gold in moose hide sacks, some to be sent to the men whose wealth had made the expedition possible and some to the orphans of Vladivostok.
It was at this time that the native with the dark and frowning visage came with the announcement that he had located some immense tusks of extinct monsters, a short distance inland. He begged Johnny to go with him to look at them and assured him that if they pleased him, they should be brought to the coast for barter.
"All right, come sun to-morrow, I go," said Johnny.
"I better go along," said Pant, when the native had left.
"Go if you want to," said Johnny.
Next morning, just at dawn, the three men started on their quest for the ancient ivory.
The way led first up the frozen river bed, then over low-lying hills to a stretch of tundra. At the distant border of the tundra towered high cliffs, flanked by snow-blown mountains. Toward these they journeyed, tramping along in silence.
As they neared the cliffs, Johnny fancied that he saw some dark creatures moving among the rocks. The distance was too great for him to know whether they were human beings or animals.
It was with a creeping sense of danger and a feeling of thankfulness for Pant's companionship, that, after arriving at the cliffs, he found himself being led into a dark cave in a hill of limestone rock.
"U bogak ivory" (look, here is ivory). The native whispered the words as if afraid the extinct monsters would waken from the dead and demand their tusks.
He had lighted a single tallow candle which gave forth a sickly, flickering light.
The place seemed fairly spooky. Only the pit-pats of their footsteps wakened dull echoes through the vaulted cavern. Johnny could not help feeling that there were more than three men in this cave. In vain he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of the walls to right and left of him.
They had gone perhaps seventy-five paces into the darkness when there came a sudden indistinguishable sound. Johnny thought it like the dropping of a small rock, followed by a half suppressed exclamation. A chill crept up his spine.
They moved on a few paces. Again came a sound. This time it was like two steps taken in the dark. At the same instant, fingers gripped his arm. He sprang into an attitude of defense.
"Stop," came a whisper in his ear. "Place's full of natives." It was Pant. "When I knock the candle to the floor, you drop flat and crawl for the door."
For a second Johnny stared in the dark at the place where Pant's face should be. He caught again the puzzling gleam of yellow light.
"All right," he breathed.
Ten seconds later, as the candle executed a spiral curve toward the floor and flickered out, Johnny dropped flat and began to crawl.
THE BIG CAT
Hardly had Johnny and Pant disappeared over the hill that morning in their quest for the supposed old ivory of rare value, when things began to happen in the neighborhood of the camp. Dave Tower and Jarvis had been detailed to inspect Mine No. 3, with a view to opening it as soon as the mother-lode had been reached in No. 2. Armed with pick and shovel, they had crossed the first low ridge, which made a short cut across the bend of the river, when Jarvis suddenly whispered:
"Hist! Down! The cat!"
Dave dropped to his knees, eyes popping at the sight just before him. Not twenty yards from them was a huge tiger. With head up, tail lashing, he seemed contemplating a leap which might bring him over a third of the distance between them. Two more leaps, and then what? Dave's hair prickled at the roots; a chill ran down his spine; cold perspiration stood out on his forehead.
"If only we had a gun," he whispered.
"Keep yer eye on 'im," the Englishman whispered. "Don't flinch nor turn a 'air. 'E's a bad un."
For fully three minutes—it seemed hours to Dave—the great cat lay spread flat to the snow. Then a nervous twitch of his paws told that he was disturbed. Dave's hands grasped the pick-handle until it seemed they would crush it to splinters.
But what was this? The creature turned his head and looked to the right.
In another second they saw what the tiger saw. A clumsy, ponderous polar bear, making her way inland to some rocky cavern for a sleep, had blundered upon them.
"Ship ahoy!" breathed Jarvis. "Twelve feet long, if she's an inch, and a bob for a tail at that."
"Look!" whispered Dave. "She has her cub with her."
"And the cat sees 'er. 'Oly mackerel, wot a scrap."
* * * * *
When Johnny Thompson dropped on hands and knees in the cavern after the Eskimo's candle had flickered out, he felt his arm seized by the twitching fingers of Pant, and, half by his own effort, half by the insistent drag of his companion, who seemed to be quite at home in this dungeon-like darkness, he made his way rapidly toward the door.
Complete darkness appeared to have demoralized the forces of evil that had been arrayed against them. Soft-padded footsteps could be heard here and there, but these persons seemed to be hurrying like frightened bats to a place of hiding. Twice they were stumbled upon by some one fleeing.
Johnny's mind worked rapidly.
"Pant," he breathed, "if they strike a light and hold it, we're lost!"
"Got your automatic?"
"Take time to get hold of it."
"Shoot at the first flash of light. That'll fix 'em. They're cowards. All natives are." Pant jerked out the sentences as he crawled rapidly.
They were none too soon. In another moment a match flared. Seemingly in the same instant, so quick was Johnny's movement, a blinding flash leaped from the floor and a deafening roar tore the tomb-like silence.
Johnny had fired at the ceiling, but this was quite enough. The light flared out. There was no more lighting of matches.
Creeping stealthily forward, avoiding the overturning of the smallest stone or bit of shale which might betray their position, they soon neared the entrance.
"Gotta make a run for it," breathed Pant. "Automatic ready?"
"Give 'em three rounds, then beat it. Make a dash to the right the instant you're outside. Ready?"
Johnny felt the hand on his arm tremble for an instant, then grip hard.
* * * * *
When the great, white bear and her cub came upon the scene on that snow-domed hill where Jarvis and Dave cowered before the tiger, the point of interest for the tiger was at once shifted to the fat and rollicking cub. Here was a juicy feast. And to the great cat, inexperienced as he must have been in the ways of the creatures of the very far north into which he had wandered, the cumbersome mother seemed a rather insignificant barrier to keep him from his feast. One spring, a set of those vicious yellow teeth, a dash away, with the ponderous mother following at a snail's pace—that seemed easy. He carefully estimated the short distance between them.
But if these were the sensations that registered themselves on the brain cells of this tawny creature, he had reckoned wrong.
He had made just two springs when the mother bear right about faced and, nosing her cub to a position behind her, stood at bay.
Seeing this, the tiger paused. Lashing his tail and crouching for a spring, he uttered a low growl of defiance.
The bear's answer to this was a strange sound like the hissing of a goose. She held her ground.
Then, seeing that the cat did not spring again, she wheeled about and began pushing the cub slowly before her.
"Will 'e get 'im?" whispered Jarvis.
"Don't know," answered Dave. "If I had a rifle, he wouldn't. Whew! What a robe that yellow pelt would make! Just prime, too!"
Lashing his tail more furiously than before, the tiger sprang. Now he was within thirty feet of the bear, now twenty, now ten. It seemed that the next spring would bring him to his goal.
But here he paused. The mother was between him and his dinner. He circled. The bear circled clumsily. The cub was always behind her. The tiger stood still. The bear moved slowly backward, still pushing her cub. Again the tiger sprang. This time he was but eight feet distant. He growled. The bear hissed. The crisis had come.
With a sudden whirl to one side, the cat sprang with claws drawn and paws extended. It was clear that he had hoped to outflank the bear. In this he failed. A great forepaw of the bear swung over the tiger's head, making the air sing.
She nipped at the yellow fur with her ivory teeth. Here, too, she was too late; the tiger had leaped away.
The tiger turned. There were flecks of white at the corners of his mouth. His tail whipped furiously. With a wild snarl, he threw himself at the mother bear's throat. It was a desperate chance, but for a second it seemed that those terrible fangs would find their place; and, once they were set there, once the knife-like claws tore at the vitals of the bear, all would be over. Then he would have a feast of good young bear.
At the very instant when all this seemed accomplished, when Jarvis breathed hoarsely, "Ah!" and Dave panted, "Oh!", there came a sound as of a five-hundred-pound pile-driver descending upon a bale of hay.
Like a giant plaything seized by a cyclone, the tiger whirled to the right twelve feet away, then rolled limply over and over.
"Ee! She packs a wallop!" breathed Jarvis.
"Is he dead?" said Dave.
The bear moved close to the limp form of her enemy and sniffed the air.
"Looks like she got 'im," grinned Jarvis, straightening his cramped limbs.
For the first time the mother bear seemed to realize their presence, and, apparently scenting more danger, she began again pushing her cub before her, disappearing at last over the next low hill.
"Bully for 'er!" exclaimed Jarvis.
For some time they sat there on the crusted snow unable to believe that the tiger was dead, and unwilling to trust themselves too close to his keen claws and murderous fangs. Finally, Dave rose stiffly.
"Let's have a look," he muttered.
"Sure 'e's done for?"
As they bent over the stiffening form of the great yellow cat, Jarvis gave the head a turn.
"Broke!" he muttered; "'is neck is broke short off! I say she packed a wallop!"
"And the skin's ours!" exclaimed Dave joyously. "What a beauty! We'll skin him before he freezes."
Suiting his action to his words, he began the task. He had worked in silence for some time when he suddenly stood up with a start.
"What's that?" he exclaimed.
"My knife struck metal—a chain about his neck!"
"Somebody's pet!" exclaimed Jarvis, "and a bloomin' fine one!" He bent over to examine the chain.
"But whose?" asked Dave.
"'Ere's the tag. Take a look."
"Looks oriental. Some numbers and letters. I can't read them."
"Sure," grinned Jarvis. "Ain't I been tellin' y'? It's the bloody bloomin' 'eathen from the islands down the sea-coast. They're 'angin' about 'ere. They'll be lettin' out a 'ole menagerie against us some fine day—elephants, lions, mebby a hyena or two, and who knows what?"
He stood and stared at Dave; Dave stared back at him.
* * * * *
As Johnny Thompson prepared for the dash out of the cave, where he and Pant were to have been trapped, he realized that it was a desperate move. Pant had seen only lances and harpoons. There were doubtless rifles in the natives' hands as well. He knew very well their intentions: they feared him as a leader and, hoping to trap him here, had planned to end his life. One by one, they would pick off his men. At last there would be a rush and the remaining few would be killed. Then the supplies would be theirs. In this land without law, they had nothing to fear but the failure of their plans. If he could escape this one time, he would be on his guard; he would protect himself and his men.
"C'mon," Pant cried. "Three shots; then for it."
Three times the automatic shook the walls of the cavern. Then they were away, out in the open breaking for cover among the boulders that lined the cliff.
Now they were dodging from rock to rock; now, for a second, Johnny saw the natives swarming from the cave like bees; now, they were hidden from sight; and now, he paused for an instant to send a bullet over the head of a runner who ran too well.
Soon they had lost themselves among the hills. Only once, in the five-mile run home, did a native appear on a hilltop. He beckoned, then disappeared.
After a time, when near camp, they slowed down to a walk.
"Pretty close," smiled Johnny, slipping his gun into his pocket.
"I say," murmured Pant, "do you think they were the same ones that attacked you back here on the hill a few nights ago?"
"No. Their work's too crude. These others were real chaps."
That night, after darkness had fallen over the hills, Johnny went into Mine No. 1 with a flashlight alone. Having reached a point where Langlois had been found dead, he sat down on a frozen ledge and stared at the rust-reddened pick-handle, which seemed to point an accusing finger at him for bringing that fine fellow here to meet his death. What had killed him? This was as much a mystery as ever.
There were many mysteries about this place; there was that earth-tremble that, to-night, was more noticeable than ever; there were those strange brown people who had attacked him on this very hill; there was the tiger slain that very day and skinned by Dave and Jarvis; there was the oriental chain and tag about the beast's neck. Johnny seemed surrounded by many mysteries and great dangers. Was it his duty to call the deal off and desert the mines? Sometimes he thought it was. Ice conditions were such that it might yet be possible to get their gasoline schooner into open water and go pop-popping south to Vladivostok. But there would be those there who waited and hoped for gold to aid them in the battle against hunger, disease and death. Could they go empty-handed?
Rumors of a new peril had drifted in that day. A Reindeer Chukche, coming from a five days' journey into the interior, had told of great numbers of Russians pushing toward the coast. These could be none other than Bolsheviki who hoped to gather wealth of one kind or another by a raid on the coast. If the Chukche was telling the truth, the stay of the white men could be prolonged by only a few days at the most.
At the same time, the mining crew had reported indications that they would reach the mother-lode in No. 2 within three days.
"We'll chance it that long," Johnny said, with an air of determination, as he rose and left the mine.
He was crossing a ridge of snow, when, as once before, his eye was caught by a spinning black object.
"Another phonograph record! Another warning!" he exclaimed. "Wonder what it will be this time?"
Johnny whistled thoughtfully to himself, as he strode forward to pick up the little black messenger.
IN THE GRIP OF TERROR
"Oh, there's honey in the rock, my brother, There's honey in the rock for you."
Johnny was listening to the second phonographic record. In high-pitched falsetto note the singer had repeated these words over and over. That was all. If the other message had seemed void of meaning, this one appeared doubly so, for here there were no improvised lines, only these two taken from a threadbare religious song. What could it mean?
Johnny did not puzzle over this long. There were too many other important matters to attend to. Dangers confronted them. He did not fear the natives for the present. But the Bolsheviki? If they were coming this way, then here indeed was peril enough.
"Dave," he said, after a long period of musing by the fire, "I'm going to take the team of gray wolf-hounds with a two-day supply of food and go see what all this talk about Russians means. I won't be in danger of being followed by natives, for I shall start long before sunrise. I'd send the boys with the airplane, but the sight of the machine would give us dead away. I can probably obtain the information we need concerning their numbers, rate of travel and so on, and not be seen at all.
"I shall leave matters in your hands. Push the mining in No. 2 to the utmost and get the richest of the mother-lode panned as speedily as possible. A hundredweight of gold would mean much. Should I fail to return, and should conditions seem to warrant the abandoning of camp, send the plane out to look for me. If they fail to locate me, take no chances. Clear the ice with the schooner as quickly as you can. I shall be all right. I came to this place from Vladivostok once by reindeer, and went north to Bering Strait the same way. I can take care of myself."
"All right," said Dave, a trifle anxiously. "I'll do just as you say. Good luck, and may you come back."
They gripped hands for a second, then parted.
In the meantime, over in the corner, with a discarded shirt thrust into the horn of the phonograph as a muffler, Pant was playing that newly-found record over and over. A puzzled frown wrinkled his forehead above the goggles.
Presently he sat up straight, and, tearing the muffler away, started the machine. His hands trembled as he sank back in his chair, limp with excitement. He allowed the record to grind its way out to the very end, then he nodded his head and murmured:
"Yes, that's it, 'money in the rock.' Money, plenty of it."
When Johnny started out at four o'clock the next morning, he set his dogs zig-zagging back and forth to the land side of their cabin. He was hunting the invisible trail of the Reindeer Chukche who had come from the interior the day before. When once the dog-leader had come upon the scent of it, the team bounded straight away over the tundra.
The cabin soon faded from view. First came the frozen bed of the river, then a chain of low-lying hills, then broad stretches of tundra again, with, here and there, a narrow willow-lined stream twisting in and out between snow-banks. The steady pat-pat of his "mucklucks" (skin boots) carried him far that day, but brought him no sight of the reported Russians.
After a brief sleep, he was away again. He had traveled for eight hours more, when, upon skirting the edge of a long line of willows by a river's brink, he imagined he caught sight of a skulking figure on the further bank. He could not be sure of it. He pressed on, his dogs still trailing the reindeer sled. If they had come near the Russian camp, the trail would doubtless have made a direct turn to right or left of it to escape passing too closely. The Chukches avoided these Russians as merchant ships of old avoided a pirate bark. Contact with them meant loss of their reindeer, perhaps death as well.
So, confident in his false security, Johnny pushed on. But just as he was about to emerge from the river-bed, a dozen armed ruffians of the most vicious-looking type sprang from the willows.
Resistance was useless; Johnny stopped his team. He looked back and, to his disgust, he saw that their camp was pitched on the other side of that long row of willows. These shrubs had been caught by the frost when their leaves were yet green. The leaves had not fallen off, and, even at this time of year, formed a perfect screen, a fact for which Johnny was later to be profoundly grateful.
In vain he attempted to play up in a friendly fashion to the Bolsheviki. They looked upon him as an enemy and a hostage, for, in the first place, did they not know that American soldiers had, for many months, guarded a section of the Trans-Siberian Railroad against their armies? And, in the second place, did not Johnny drive a splendid team of gray wolf-hounds, which would be of great service to them in their march to the coast? They did not understand how he came there. They asked him all manner of foolish questions, to which he gave quite as foolish answers, and, when this was at an end, they fitted a rusty pair of "bracelets" to his feet, and, thrusting him inside a vile-smelling tent, gave him vermin-infested blankets to sleep in and sour brown bread to eat.
"Here's a pretty mess!" he stormed silently to himself. "There's at least a hundred of them. They must travel slowly, but even so, four days will bring them to the coast; then, unless the unforeseen happens, it's the ocean for our outfit, or perhaps worse than death. And if anything goes wrong, it's all my fault because I failed to consider that this bunch would have moved forward from where the Chukche saw them. I only hope the boys find out in time."
He listened for a while with aching heart to the wail of his dogs, who had been turned into their snowy beds without their supper, and, at last, from sheer exhaustion, he fell asleep.
Two days later he was led toward a peculiar square cabinet that had been set up in the snow. Beside it was a pile of glowing embers left from a fire of willows. The ten men who marched beside him were not armed. Since they pressed about him on all sides, cutting off all chance of his escape, no weapons were needed.
They had not told him what they meant to do. What the cabinet was, what the bed of coals meant, he could not even guess. Malignant grins gave the faces of the men a look that made his blood run cold. He had seen such an expression only once before, and that in the movies when Indians grinned at the prospect of burning an enemy at the stake.
He was soon inside the cabinet with one of his guards. This cabinet was divided into two compartments, each about four feet square. As soon as he entered one of these, he was told to remove all his clothing and was then handed a large, coarse towel. At this, he heaved a sigh of relief and even chuckled a little at his fright. He was merely being given a bath—a Russian steam-bath. He had heard of such baths, and was now thoroughly in favor of them.
"A bath is a bath," he whispered to himself as he twisted the towel about his hips, "and a great luxury in this country."
He was pushed into the other compartment. It was stinging cold out here. A second guard appeared with a great metal can filled with the glowing coals from the fire Johnny had seen outside. He set this down upon a small stand, the top of which was on a level with Johnny's waist, and backed out. A third man appeared with a bucket of water and a huge gourd. Taking a position directly in front of the door, this guard dipped a full gourd of water and poured it on the coals. Instantly a dense cloud of steam rose to the ceiling. This much steam, Johnny figured, would give one a comfortable bath. But at that moment, with a fiendish leer on his face, the man threw on another gourdful, then another. The door slammed and a bar thudded into place.
Immediately Johnny took in the full horror of his situation. He was to be steamed alive. Already the dense, white cloud was descending. Lower and lower it came. He crouched down to avoid it. In another moment, it would engulf him. No man could live in such a place.
His mind worked like chain-lightning. This cabinet? How was it fastened down? How strongly? His fingers felt for the lower edge of it. Working them down and under, he secured a hold. Then, with all his superb strength, he heaved away. Something snapped, but still the thing held firm. He heaved again. The touch of steam on his back lent him new power. Crack! Crack! Then the uprooted cabinet swayed a second and then crashed into three of the gaping spectators.
Johnny leaped forward. A burly fellow seized his arms. Using an old college trick, Johnny fell backward, taking the man with him. Then, with his foot on the other's stomach, he sent him whirling into two other men, and, before they could recover from their astonishment, Johnny went sprinting down the side of the long row of willows, which had proved his downfall two days before.
He was headed for home. No Russian, nor Russian dog-team, could catch him. But he was clad only in a towel, and there were many miles of snow between him and his friends.
Suddenly, from the rear, there came the ki-yi of dogs.
"Hounds!" he murmured in despair. "Unhitched from the sled. They'll catch me. I can't escape them." He stared wildly to right and left as he ran, but saw no way of escape.
* * * * *
After Johnny Thompson had left camp in search of the Bolshevik band that eventful morning, he was no more than out of sight when a slight figure crept from a snow-buried pup tent to the right of the cabin and went gliding away up the hill in the moonlight. It was Pant. Rapidly he scaled the snow-packed hillside. Arriving at last at the foot of the rocky cliff, he began a minute examination of those cliffs. Once he climbed to a dizzy height by clinging to the crags. It was a cat-like feat which very few persons could perform, but he did it with consummate ease. At another time he dropped flat on his stomach and crept into a broad crevice between the rocks. He was gone for a long time, but finally appeared grimy with dirt and empty-handed.
"'Money in the rock,'" he murmured. "'Money in the rock for you.'"
Then, as if discouraged with his quest, he turned and started down the hill.
He had covered half the distance when something caught his eye. A black spot, the size of a baseball, had bounced mysteriously past him.
In a twinkling, he was away in mad pursuit. Slipping, sliding, bounding over the glistening surface, turning a somersault to land on his feet and race ahead, he very soon came up with the thing where it had lodged against a protruding flat rock.
His fingers grasped it eagerly. Here was a third message from the unknown one. Perhaps this would explain all.
THE MYSTERY OF MINE No. 1
When Johnny Thompson saw that the wolf-hounds were on his trail, though he was without weapons of any kind and practically destitute of clothing, he decided to put as great a distance as possible between himself and the Russians, then to turn upon the pack and sell his life dearly, if indeed it must be sold to a murderous pack of half wolves.
As he sped forward, through his mind there ran all manner of stories told round northern camp fires. The stories had to do with these same Russian wolf-hounds. A man had once picketed his dogs near him in a blizzard and, creeping into his sleeping bag, had slept so soundly throughout the night that he did not realize the drifting snow was burying him. He had awakened to struggle against the weight of snow but could not free himself. Months later, when the spring thaw had come, his bones had been found picked clean by his wolf-hounds. A child at Nome, Alaska, playing with his father's team, was scratched by one of them. The smell of blood had set them wild. They had attacked him, and before help could arrive had torn him in pieces. These stories flooding his memory lent added speed to his stalwart limbs.
He ran three miles, four, five miles. But at each added mile, the yelp of the hounds came more distinctly to him. Now he could hear the loud flap as they sucked in their lolling tongues.
He was becoming fatigued. Soon he must turn and stand at bay. He looked to the right and left of him. A cutbank presented a steep perpendicular surface against which he might take his stand with the knowledge that they could not attack him from the rear.
"But shucks!" he half sobbed. "What's the use? I'll be frozen stiff before they get courage to attack me."
To the cutbank he ran, then, turning, waited.
With rolling tongues, the dogs came hurrying up to form themselves into a circle, seven gaunt, gray wolf-hounds grinning at one naked boy.
Then Johnny, catching the humor of the situation, not only grinned back, but laughed outright, laughed long and loud. What he said when he had finished was:
"Bowsie, you old rascal, why didn't you tell me it was you?"
It was his own team. Having been unhitched at the time, they had recognized the stride of their master and had deserted with him. It was indeed a joyous meeting.
There was, however, no time to be wasted. The bitter cold air made Johnny's skin crinkle like parchment. His feet, in contact with the stinging snow, were freezing.
Two of the dogs still wore their seal-skin harnesses. These Johnny tore off of them and having broken the bindings, wound them in narrow strips about his feet, tying them firmly around his ankles.
So, with his feet protected from the cold, he took up the fifteen miles of homeward race, the seven dogs ki-yi-ing at his heels.
Five miles farther on, he came upon a cache built by some Reindeer Chukche. In this he found a suit of deer skin. It was old, dirty and too small, but he crowded into it gratefully. Then with knees exposed and arms swinging bare to the elbows he prepared for a more leisurely ten miles home. He was quite confident that the lazy and stolid Russians were not following.
Johnny was well within sight of the friendly hill that sheltered his cabin from the north wind, when, with a sudden gasp, he stopped and stared. Coming apparently out of the very heart of the hill, an immense brown object extended itself along the horizon and at last floated free in air.
To understand this strange phenomenon, we must know what had been happening at camp, and what Pant had been doing since finding the mysterious black bill.
The ball was covered with black paper. This much, Pant discovered at once. The rest he left to the seclusion of his pup tent and the light of a candle.
When at last he unwrapped the paper, he found nothing more than a film, a small, moving-picture film. This had been developed, dried, then rewound on a spool. The remainder of the inner contents of the ball was nothing but blank paper with never a scratch of writing upon it. When Pant had examined each scrap carefully, he held the film to the light. There were pictures on it. As his keen eyes studied them, his expression changed from that of puzzled interest to intense surprise, almost of horror.
For a full half hour he sat there holding them close to the light, then far away; tipping them to one angle then another, mirroring them on the retina of his eye until nothing could efface them. Then, having rerolled and rewrapped them, he hid them away among his deer skins and turning over, fell asleep.
He was awake again by sunrise, and without pausing for breakfast went directly to the entrance of Mine No. 1. Having entered without a light, he made his way to the back of the cavity. There he paused to listen. The earth shudder seemed to fairly shake the rocks loose about him. One pebble did rattle to the floor. The next instant there came the clang of rocks on metal. A light flashed. It was in Pant's hand. In the gleaming circle of light from his electric torch, a brightly polished disk of metal appeared. It was eating its way through the frozen wall of sand and rock. One second the light flashed, the next second Pant was hurrying from the mine as if his life depended upon it.
Dashing down the hill, he broke into the mess-room where the men were assembled for hot-cakes and coffee.
"Arms! arms!" he panted. "Rifles, automatics, anything. A pick, two picks. C'mon."
The men, believing that he had gone mad, stood staring in speechless astonishment.
"C'mon, can't you?" he pleaded. "It's the yellow men, the dirty little yellow men. They've got an infernal machine for cutting out the pay dirt in blocks. They've looted Mine No. 1 while we slept. That was the earth-tremble. C'mon, can't you? Bring rifles! Anything. We'll get them yet!"
Catching a glimmer of his meaning, the men dashed to the bunkroom and clubroom, to appear a moment later armed with such weapons as they could find.
Arriving at the entrance of Mine No. 1, Pant held up a finger for silence.
"Arms ready," he whispered, "your left hand on the shoulder of the man ahead of you. I'll lead."
Without a light, he entered the mine and beckoned the men to come on. With soft and shuffling tread they followed, like a chain gang entering a dungeon. They took fifty paces, then they halted. A light flashed. Instantly every man gripped his weapon.
It was only Pant. What they saw before them caused involuntary ejaculations. A hole some eighteen inches square had been cut in the frozen wall.
For a second they listened. The silence was so complete that the ticking of a watch sounded like the beat of an alarm clock.
"They've gone," whispered Pant. "C'mon."
His light blinked out. There followed the sound of garments rubbing against the walls. The man behind Pant felt him one instant, the next he was gone. He had crawled through the hole. There was nothing to do but follow. One by one, thrusting their rifles before them, they crawled through this narrow door from the mine. To what? They could not even guess.
"'Tis fair spooky," whispered Jarvis to Dave. "'Ow does 'e know 'ow 'e should go? Can 'e see in the dark? 'Ow'd 'e come by the name Pant anyway?"
"Langlois give it to him," Dave whispered back, "the fellow that was killed here, you know. He claimed Pant could see in the dark and began calling him 'Panther Eye.' The men cut it down to 'Panther,' then to 'Pant.' That's all I know about it."
"'E's rightly named," growled Jarvis, as he fumbled his way through the hole in the dark.
"This way," came the low whisper of Pant. "As you were, hand to shoulder."
Only the soft pat-pat of their footfalls on the floor of what appeared to be a narrow runway broke the tomb-like silence of the place. Now and again, as they moved forward, Dave Tower felt his shoulder brush some unseen object. Each time he shivered and shrank back. He expected at any moment to hear the roar of rifles, to find himself engaged in deadly combat with the mysterious robbers who had looted the mine of its treasure while they worked within a stone's throw of it.
Twice they paused. A silence so deep that it was painful ensued. No sound came. They marched solemnly on. And now, they had struck a steep incline.
"Down low; down low; down low," came whispered back from man to man.
They stooped to an almost creeping posture and began to climb. The ascent was steep as a stair. Twice Dave lost his footing, and once came near sending his rifle crashing to the frozen earth. Some one behind was less fortunate. There came the clang of steel, then deathly silence.
Again they crept upward. Suddenly a ray of light cut through the gloom. In another second, they were in a veritable flood of light. And yet, as they glanced rapidly to right and left, they saw walls of rock. Above them too was a vaulted ceiling. Only before them was light. What could it mean?
In an instant they knew. Leaping toward the opening, they expressed their surprise in unchecked exclamations.
"A balloon! A balloon!"
It was true. It seemed to them, as they looked, that the whole side of the mountain had burst open and allowed a giant dirigible balloon to float out from its depth.
What had really happened was evident. These robbers, having located the rich mine and having no concession to mine it, had discovered this natural cave and had cut a channel from it to the place of the gold deposit. They had reached the point by balloon. Having deflated it, they had stowed it away in the cave and had blocked the entrance of the cave with snow. The next blizzard had defaced every sign of their presence. Doubtless there had been a small secret entrance to the cave which none of Johnny Thompson's men had discovered.
"They're gone!" exclaimed Dave.
"And I 'ates to think 'ow much gold they took with 'em," mourned Jarvis.
"Quick, the airplane!" shouted Pant, turning to the two aviators. "There's a machine gun on it. We'll halt them yet. I better go with you. Some of the rest of you explore the interior here. They may not have taken the gold."
Dave Tower snapped on his flashlight, and, after taking one more look at the giant black "sausage" in the sky, turned to assist the others in the exploration of the looted mine. He had little hope of discovering the treasure, but he did want to see how they had accomplished the task.
One more question crowded its way to the front: "How had they killed Frank Langlois?"
THREE MEN DISAPPEAR
It was the dirigible balloon that Johnny Thompson saw as he rounded the point of the hill in his wild flight from the Bolshevik band.
With his dogs grouped about him, he stood and gazed at it in speechless astonishment. Where had it come from? What was its mission? Whither was it going? These and many other questions sped through his mind as the balloon rose lazily in air.
Scarcely a moment had passed when a sound arrested his attention. It was the thunder of a powerful gasoline engine. He guessed that it was the motor of his own airplane. He had not long to doubt, for in a second the machine came swooping into sight. It made directly toward the clumsy sausage. Lithe and bird-like it tore away after the balloon.
Was this a friendly visit or an attack? The answer came in a series of noisy punctuations—the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun.
This balloon then was an enemy. Dimly the truth entered Johnny's mind. He was beginning to connect the balloon with the little yellow men who had attacked him, and with the earth shudder, but how it all fitted in he could not tell. Who was the enemy?
His eyes were on the two ships of the sky. The airplane, having circled close to the cabin of the balloon, had fired a volley, whether directly at it or above or below it, he could not tell. Now the plane circled close again. But what was this? A man was climbing to the upper rigging of the plane. Now he was standing, balancing himself directly on top. Johnny recognized the slim figure of Pant. Now the plane, with engine dead, drifted toward the cabin of the balloon. They were almost even with it. There came three snorts of the engine and the plane shot beneath the cabin, then out on the other side. But Pant? Where was he? He was not on the upper surface of the plane nor climbing down on the rigging.
Johnny sat down dizzily. Cold perspiration stood out on his brow. The excitement, following hours of fatigue and near starvation, was too much for him; his head swam; his eyes blurred.
But he shook himself free from these sensations and gazed skyward. He expected to see Pant come crashing down to earth. He did not. There could be but one answer: he had leaped in midair for the underrigging of the cabin of the balloon and had caught it. What a feat! It made Johnny's head dizzy to think of it. He did not doubt for one moment that Pant would do it. But what could be his purpose? Had the balloon broken loose? Was it drifting free, a derelict? This he could not believe, for the thing had seemed to travel in a definite direction. Besides, if this was true, why the machine-gun fire? Had they killed the only occupants? Johnny hoped not. He hated death. Whatever the men had done, he hoped they had not been killed. But why had Pant taken such chances?
Then as he looked, he saw a package drop over the side of the cabin. It fell straight downward, with tremendous velocity. But there came a sudden check. It was attached to a parachute. The parachute had opened. Its course was now marked by a little down-rush, then a pause, then a rush again.
He had been so intent on his observation of this that he did not realize that once more an object had fallen from the car. This time it was a man. He also was attached to a parachute.
As he came into Johnny's circle of vision, the boy rose and waved his arms, crying with a hoarse shout of joy:
"Pant! Pant! Good old Pant! He's safe!"
* * * * *
When Dave Tower and Jarvis led the little band of miners back through the cave, they found, as they had expected, that a small tunnel had been cut out of the frozen earth to form an entrance to the mine. Before entering this tunnel, they paused to look about them. Ranged about the walls, piled tier on tier, were black cubes of sand and gravel. From these came the glitter of yellow metal. These were cubes of pay dirt which would yield a rich return when the spring thaw came. Bits of cable, twisted coils of wire, a pair of rusty pliers, told that electricity had been employed as power for mining.
A smooth spot on the cave's floor showed where some form of engine had been set. That the power of the engine had been supplied by gasoline was shown by a great pile of empty one hundred gallon steel tanks which had been stolen from the company's supply in the sheds.
Dave picked up the pliers and rubbed the rust from them.
"They're Orientals all right," he mused. "Pliers got their stamp on 'em. But say! These boys sure had some ideas about mining placer gold. A man could take their machine to Alaska and make a fortune. Let's have a look."
"Sure! Sure!" came from a half score of throats.
They hurried down the narrow tunnel to find themselves in the mine. Here, as in the cave, they found cubes of pay dirt piled high on every side. At the end of it all was a low square machine with a buzz-saw-like wheel extending from it. The power wires, still attached to it, had been cut some ten feet from it.
"'E's a clever one!" said Jarvis.
"I'll say so," agreed Dave.
* * * * *
Before Pant leaped from the balloon, after throwing overboard the two hundredweight sack of gold which the yellow men, in their fright at the machine-gun fire, had deserted in the outer cabin, he performed one other valuable service. He threw over the heavy anchor, which was attached to a steel cable.
The anchor shot like a plummet for the ground and proceeded to hang itself securely in a corner of rock. The progress of the balloon was instantly halted. Still filled with terror at the machine-gun fire, the yellow men took to their parachutes. On landing, they made good their escape by losing themselves in the rocky ledges which rose up from the sea shore. It was useless to pursue them there.
By the time all this had happened, Dave and Jarvis, with their men, had come out from the mine and had joined Johnny, who, still prancing about in his ridiculous costume, was rejoicing with Pant over the sudden enriching of their treasure-hoard.
"Get a windlass," said Dave. "We'll bring that giant bird to earth. There may be more treasure aboard her."
In due time the balloon-cabin touched the snow and the men swarmed upon it.
They were disappointed in their hope of finding further treasure, but they did find a solitary man. He was a white man and was totally unconscious from a blow on the head.
"Dave, you and Jarvis stay here and see what you can do for the chap," said Johnny. "All the rest of you come with me. We've got work ahead of us and a plenty. The Bolshevik band will be here in less than twenty-four hours. We'll have to float our schooner, load the provisions and gold and beat it."
He turned once more to Dave and Jarvis. "If you bring him to consciousness and can manage it, carry him to the ship. Otherwise I'll send two men to help you when we are through loading."
Wild hours of tireless labor followed for the the main gang. To bring the schooner from the bank to the water-channel, a quarter of a mile over the ice, was no mean task. It was at last accomplished. After that, the loading went on rapidly.
Nothing had been seen of Dave and Jarvis when the last case of provisions had been brought aboard.
Johnny chose two of the men and went round the hill to assist in bringing the injured man to the ship. Imagine his astonishment when, on rounding the curve, he saw that the balloon was gone.
"Gone!" he murmured, dazed at the suddenness of it.
A hasty examination of the surroundings gave them no sign of the missing men.
"Must have broken loose and sailed away with them."
At that instant he caught the gleam of a light on the western sky.
"Camp fire of the Bolsheviki. We can't wait another moment," he muttered. "And it wouldn't do any good if we did. They're gone."
He turned and led his men back to the ship.
A half hour later the little schooner was pop-popping her way through a narrow channel to open water beyond. She carried, besides her crew and provisions, a hundredweight of gold taken in the last three days from Mine No. 2, and twice as much taken from the robber yellow men. Thirty-five per cent of this would do wonders in Vladivostok. Johnny was sitting and thinking of these things and of a wireless message he had received but a few days before, when he suddenly began wondering where Pant was.
"Say," he exclaimed, turning to one of his men, "where's Pant? Haven't seen him since we put out."
Sure enough, where was he? They searched the ship. He was not to be found. At last Johnny spied a note pinned to his spare parka. It was written by Pant.
"Dear Johnny," it read, "you will pardon me, I am sure, for leaving your service at this time. But you won't need me down there and Vladivostok sounds too tame. Up here there is real adventure.
Johnny looked at the man beside him and the man looked at him.
"Queer chap," murmured Johnny. "But a real sport at that."
"No use to try to find him."
"Not a bit."
"Queer chap," Johnny murmured again, "Queer eyes."
"That Pant was just short for Panther Eye," said the miner. "Men gave him the name. One of them claimed he was hunting panthers once with a skillful surgeon. A panther tore his right eye out. The surgeon shot the panther and grafted an eye into Pant's empty socket. The fellow claimed he'd seen him with those yellow goggles off. Said his pupil contracted in the light like a great cat's eye. But you can't believe half those men tell you."
"No, you can't," said Johnny. "I guess every chap has a right to have a secret or two about himself and keep them. Pant had his and kept it. That's about as far as we'll ever get on that mystery. What say we go to chow?"
In the harbor at Vladivostok a thirty-ton gasoline schooner threaded its way through narrow channels left by ocean liners and gunboats toward a deserted water-front where half-dismantled warships of ancient Russian design lay rotting in the sun. Straight to a rickety wharf they made their way.